Over the past decade, social media has metamorphosed into a dynamic form of worldwide interpersonal communication and community building. In fact, according to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Project report, which drew on surveys from 21 countries, social networking has spread worldwide with remarkable speed. In countries such as Britain, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Spain, about half of all adults now use Facebook and similar Web sites. These sites are also popular in many lower-income nations, where people, once they have access to the Internet, tend to use it for social networking.
Historically, it used to be enough to have an online presence via a company Website, for example, for the one-way broadcasting and distribution of information. Today, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter drive new forms of social interaction, dialogue, exchange, and collaboration. Social networking sites (referred to more broadly as social media) enable users to exchange ideas, post updates and comments, or participate in activities and events while sharing their broader interests. From general chit-chat to disseminating breaking news, from making a date to following election results, from humor to serious research, social networks are now used for various reasons by various user communities.
Social media is increasingly blurring the boundaries between work and play, and leveraging it as a recruitment tool is the latest leap in its usage evolution. Today, instead of using job sites, companies, and recruitment agencies are filling openings faster by relying on new tools that scour social networks and target workers – some of whom aren't even looking for jobs, says Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group.

LinkedIn got into the field early, launching Recruiter in 2008. It allows headhunters to access and search its more than 187 million profiles and contact potential candidates. This division generated $138.4 million in the third quarter of 2012, a whopping 55% of its total revenue, by charging companies $8,000 a year for one to two users of Recruiter, while headhunting firms usually charge about 20% of a new hire’s annual salary.

According to a June 2012 survey of over 1,000 HR professionals by recruiting software maker Jobvite, two-thirds of companies already use Facebook to find recruits, while 54% use Twitter to learn about potential candidates’ views and interests. In November 2012, Facebook launched a social jobs app that aggregates more than 1.7 million job listings from Monster and other sites and allows members to share them with friends.
But how does all this play out in the South African context? It is irrefutable that Internet penetration in South Africa is rising, and with it, South Africans are using social media sites. Currently, there are more than 1.9 million locals on LinkedIn, 23% of whom are at an executive or senior management level, and almost five million South Africans on Facebook, of which 3.5 million are between the ages of 25 and 40. For that, another social media giant, Twitter, South Africa, boasts over 55,000 active users, with the site being the seventh most visited in the country.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index, which is an annual survey, showed that, even though a small percentage of people actually secured their most recent jobs through social networking (1%), 24% of respondents said they had looked at social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, seeking job openings or promotions. Those most active in searching for jobs online were in KwaZulu-Natal, where 29% used social networking to look for employment opportunities, followed by Western Cape (26%), and Eastern Cape and Gauteng (both 23%). These inviting trends will induce hiring companies to invest more in social media recruitment this year instead of relying on traditional job boards.
However, the survey also revealed that while social media was active as an employment tool, so too was apprehension about the damage it could have on careers. More than a quarter of respondents admitted to deliberately editing content on their social networking pages to avoid career problems.
In the experience of Intuate Group’s People Solutions, there are advantages to using social media sites for recruitment purposes. From an internal point of view, it creates less duplication of effort for recruiters when the social media strategy is correctly set up and implemented. 

Less time is spent advertising positions, as the links between the different networks allow automatic updating. By leveraging social media sites, recruiters have access to millions of candidates, allowing them to gain greater insight into the candidates by combining the impressions gleaned from personal interviews and their profiles on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

This methodology allows candidates to be better characterized and ensures that the client benefits from getting the right candidate for the correct position. For applicants, these sites provide excellent opportunities for self-marketing.

To conclude, an increasing number of employment-eligible people spend a good part of their day on one or more of these popular social networks, with the larger platforms touching people’s lives multiple times daily. But while it is easy to see why these networks are becoming key sources for employers and recruiters to find potential employees globally, actually using social media to find and source talent is still relatively new for many employers, HR managers and recruiters in South Africa. When used effectively, social media can give an unprecedented boost to a company’s recruiting capabilities.